Nirupama Subramanian

India’s concerns can be addressed through dialogue, says Navy Chief

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Navy Chief said on Saturday Gwadar port was a purely commercial port and India’s reported concerns about it could be addressed through discussions.

Admiral M. Afzal Tahir said Gwadar port was a symbol of development for the country and Pakistan would not back off from it.

“It is our port, and as a sovereign and free country, we have the right to develop in the manner we choose, and construct whatever we wish to. If anybody has concerns, we can talk about it. This is a commercial port, it has no connections with any other country, or any naval port. It is for the development and progress of the people of Pakistan, and for the people of Balochistan,” Admiral Tahir said.

He made these remarks in response to a question by a journalist about Indian concerns over Gwadar expressed by the Indian Navy Chief last week, as he witnessed the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia joint naval exercises off the Karachi coast from Bandar Island.

Last week, Admiral Sureesh Mehta had expressed concern at the “serious strategic implications” for India of Gwadar port, which Pakistan is building with Chinese assistance.

“Being only 180 nautical miles from the exit of the Straits of Hormuz, Gwadar, being built on the Balochistan coast, would enable Pakistan take control over the world energy jugular and interdiction of Indian tankers,” he said.

Admiral Mehta said Gwadar port was part of a Chinese plan to gain access to the Arabian Sea.

“If India has some concerns over Gwadar port, it may be discussed; however, we cannot stop our progress on concerns from any Tom or Peter,” Admiral Tahir was quoted as saying by the local media. The joint Pakistan-Saudi Arabia exercises, known as Naseem-e-Bahar, are held every two years.

Lawyer held

Meanwhile, on the political front in the country, Aitzaz Ahsan, a leader of Pakistan’s legal community, was placed under house arrest once again as he tried to leave Lahore to visit Benazir Bhutto’s grave in Naudero in Sindh province on Saturday.

Mr. Ahsan, who belongs to the Pakistan People’s Party, was set free on Thursday after 90 days in confinement, and immediately called on President Pervez Musharraf to step down, and said the boycott of judges who took oath under the November 2007 Provisional Constitutional Order would continue.

On Saturday morning, he was turned away from Lahore airport, and served house arrest orders for 30 days.

In the capital, Justice (Retd) Tariq Mahmood, another lawyer who was released on Friday after the maximum permissible 90-day imprisonment, was put back under house arrest for 30 days after just nine hours of freedom.

But until late on Saturday, the government had not made any move to rearrest Al Ahmed Kurd, the firebrand lawyer from Balochistan, was also freed on Friday after 90 days in confinement.